Friday, October 05, 2012

Keith Gardner Profanity-laced Tapes Enter Campaign Fray As Senate Leader Jennings Fights Back Against Susana, They "Hate" Roswell" Plus: Pearce TV Goes Up As His Voter ID Comments Make Hay 

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You knew they were coming. And they're here. The obscenity-laced audio recordings of Governor Martinez's Chief of Staff Keith Gardner are now campaign fodder and could be the turning point in the fight being waged by Dem Senate leader Tim Jennings to save his Roswell area seat.

When the tapes were first released by New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan on September 11 they caused a statewide sensation and no more so than in the Roswell area. Gardner was a state representative for Roswell before going to work for Martinez.  In them he declares he agrees with Brian Powell that he  "hates" Roswell and calls Jennings "a cocksucker" for opposing Martinez. And there is much, much more of that type of language.

Now the recordings--made without Gardner's knowledge--will be heard on the radio, described in the mailboxes and even showcased in expensive TV ads that will be seen across the state. All of it is posted by the Jennings campaign at this web site, titled "theyhateroswell.com."

Jennings is in a do-or-die battle against Governor Martinez political adviser Jay McCleskey and his Reform NM Now PAC. The Guv is targeting Senate President Pro Tem Jennings as well as Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, accusing them of stalling her legislative agenda, and using big oil and out-of-state Republican money to finance the PAC, which is technically not associated with her.

Jennings is being challenged by 27 year old tea party activist Cliff Pirtle, hardly a threat by himself, but with thousands of dollars being pumped into the district Jennings has been forced to wage all out combat. He has hired veteran political consultant Tom Hujar of Seattle who also lives part-time in Santa Fe to go toe-to-toe with McCleskey. Hujar previously worked for ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez and other Dem candidates here.

Interestingly, Jennings' literature never mentions Gardner by name, identifying him as "a chief architect of Reform New Mexico Now."

The mail piece also refrains from using McCleskey's name but makes clear who they are talking about, saying the Reform NM Now PAC "was created by an Albuquerque political consultant who is renowned for running negative campaigns."

This Jennings rebuttal is reminiscent of what we saw in the June GOP primary for a Clovis area state Senate seat. That's when the Guv and McCleskey supported Angie Spears over Pat Woods. Woods responded with a TV ad and literature calling McCleskey out by name, but avoided attacking the popular Martinez. Now in Roswell we have Gardner and McCleskey--the two closest advisers to the Governor--as major campaign issues. This gives Jennings (and Sanchez) a way to energize their voters without making risky attacks on Martinez.

It's not as if Jennings hasn't been provoked. Reform NM Now PAC has been pounding the Senate heavyweight in the mail, with Jay even using one of his old tricks--conjuring up the image of former Dem Senate leader Manny Aragon who is serving time in prison and linking Jennings to him.

Republican Martinez would have her hands full no matter the outcome of this year's election, but by taking on Jennings and evoking this reaction--as well as the hits on Sanchez--she is now deep in the woods. Only winning will get her out.


Our Alligators reported late Thursday that GOP State Senator Clint Harden will resign his eastside seat. This comes in the wake of a blog item this week that reported Harden was raising eyebrows in Santa Fe by apparently soliciting business for his new lobbying venture. Harden's term runs until the end of the year. He decided not to seek re-election this year. Speculation was that he was pressured by the Guv to get out. His seat is being taken by Pat Woods who won the GOP primary and is unopposed in November. Harden had been in the Senate since 2002.

(Harden officially announced his resignation Friday afternoon, saying that he would like county commissioners in Senate District Seven to submit the name of Republican nominee Pat Woods to Governor Martinez for appointment.)


On October 1 we moved the New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan ranking for the open US Senate seat here from "Lean Dem" to "Likely Dem." We now have some company from Roll Call which joins the "Likely Dem" club:

For all of former Rep. Heather Wilson’s (R) strengths as a candidate, she entered this open-seat race with high unfavorable ratings from her previous statewide campaign. Plus, she’s running in a heavily Hispanic state no longer viewed as competitive in the presidential race and against a solid Democratic recruit in Rep. Martin Heinrich (D), who took the lead in August and does not appear willing to let go.

The race is Heinrich's to lose, with Wilson having a couple of shots in the upcoming TV debates to try to stave off what is looking more and more inevitable.


Southern GOP Congressman Steve Pearce is in even better shape than Heinrich. We rank his race against Democrat Evelyn Madrid Erhardas "Safe Republican." And we don't need any polls to make that assessment. Pearce is widely popular in the conservative oriented district. He won't be spending a lot of money this election, but he will have a presence. His first TV ad is all red, white and blue. An excerpt:

Pearce passed landmark legislation that will fully fund veterans' pensions, disability benefits and improve the quality of medical care. A Vietnam veteran, Steve Pearce will always keep America's promise to those who served.

While Pearce may be a lock for re-election to his US House seat, conjecture continues on whether he will make another bid for the US Senate, namely the GOP nomination for the seat held by Dem Tom Udall and which is up in 2014. It's probably a long shot but the speculation will continue until the GOP gets a name candidate on the field. So far there is none.


This report caught our eye as it dragged Pearce into the middle:

ProgressNow New Mexico, a left-leaning advocacy organization, released a video showing the New Mexico Republican Party instructing its poll watchers to engage in what could be illegal voter suppression. The poll watchers are told to request identification from voters, even though the law in New Mexico does not require voter ID. There are other troubling parts of the video...Poll watchers are told to deceive Spanish-speaking voters by telling them that interpreters are not available, when in fact New Mexico law provides for language assistance for minorities and Spanish-language ballots. 

At CPAC Colorado, a conservative conference  in Denver, I asked Congressman Steve Pearce about the brewing controversy.... “We’re simply saying that we’re going to start, we’re going to take it back it into our hands,” said Pearce. “We should check for ID since you have to show an ID to do anything in America.” He did, however, admit that doing so would be against the law. “It’s against New Mexico law to check for ID,” the congressman conceded.

Madrid-Erhard may be the undecided underdog in her race against Pearce but he handed her an opportunity there. 


Has a sitting Governor ever had worse luck on an issue? Susana is 0 for 3 in her efforts to have the Legislature overturn the law that permits undocumented immigrants to get a state driver's license and now this:

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's administration agreed  to settle a lawsuit and not revive a plan to cancel the driver's licenses of immigrants who fail to verify whether they still live in the state. The administration announced the program last year but it was suspended by a state district court in Santa Fe after the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a lawsuit. District Judge Sarah Singleton issued an order permanently blocking the program and stopping the administration from canceling licenses of any immigrants initially checked unless the state has evidence of fraud.

Susana will try again for a repeal of the licenses in the 2013 legislative session and her political PAC is hammering legislators with the issue on the campaign trail, but it doesn't appear to be working. Looks as thought she is about to go 0 for 4 on this one...

Thanks for stopping by this week.

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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